- Associated Press - Friday, October 23, 2015

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - Vietnam’s defense minister says his country wants good and friendly relations with both the United States and China, and will not favor one over the other.

The Friday edition of TuoI Tre (Youth) newspaper quoted Gen. Phung Quang Thanh telling a group of lawmakers that Vietnam wants to have peace and stability so the country can develop.

“Relations with China and the United States are very important to our security,” Thanh was quoted as saying. “If (we) have good and friendly relations with both countries, we will then maintain a balance position, maintain independence and self-reliance. (We) will not side with one big power to oppose another.”

Thanh also told the National Assembly members Thursday that Vietnam wants to resolve disputes in the South China Sea through peaceful means.

Relations between Vietnam and China plunged to their lowest point in years following the parking of a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea last year.

Vietnam and China both claim the Paracels islands, which are under Chinese occupation after ousting the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese Navy in 1974, one year before the end of the Vietnam War.

The two countries, along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim all or parts of the Spratly islands, which lie on a busy international sea lane and is rich in oil and gas and fish resources. Chinese construction of seven artificial islands atop reefs and atolls in the Spratlys over the past 18 months has raised serious concerns in the region and the United States.

The U.S., meanwhile, has been deepening ties with Vietnam and others in a bid to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

Thanh said the Vietnamese military has been producing vessels equipped with missiles and artillery guns and other weapons, and when it can produce these on its own the country will be less dependent on other countries. Currently, Russia is its main military hardware supplier.

He said Vietnam will never attack or invade any other country, but to defend itself it needs to have a capable military.

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